DOUBLE BILL #7: Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956)

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John Ford and John Wayne. One of cinema’s greatest and most celebrated director-actor partnerships. They made dozens of films together and they were one helluva team. For this Double Bill, I’ve decided to talk about their first major film together, Stagecoach (1939), and the one that’s usually considered to be their best, The Searchers (1956).

Stagecoach follows the troubled journey of a group of people on their way to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Alcoholic doctor Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell in an Oscar-winning performance), prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor), prim and proper Mrs Mallory (Louise Platt), gambler Hatfield (John Carradine), alcohol salesman Mr Peacock (Donald Meek), and their stagecoach drivers Buck (Andy Devine) and Curly (George Bancroft) leave their town of Tonto and head towards Lordsburg, knowing they will most definitely encounter the Geronimo gang. Somewhere along the way, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne in his breakthrough role) makes their acquaintance – in one of cinema’s most spectacular entrances – and jumps on board. Off they go…

Here we have this group of people who probably wouldn’t have met or bonded otherwise, bound together through necessity and in a very confined place, no less, and we get to watch them slowly opening up to each other. Doc and Dallas, in particular, also share a bond because of the fact that they were kicked out of town due to prejudice and intrigue, instigated by the town’s women. I love that. I love the fact that Stagecoach is about the relationships. That’s what’s so interesting to watch. A group of outcasts forced to leave town forming unlikely relationships with each other. Think of it as Grand Hotel (1932) meets Street Scene (1931) on horseback.

Seventeen years later, we have The Searchers. It starts off with – you know what’s coming – one of the most iconic shots ever. I know it’s been talked about endlessly, but you can’t deny it, it’s just majestic. As the door opens, we welcome our hero. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) is back. But not for long. Soon after he returns home, a raid takes place while he led away from his house. He comes back to find his family has been killed and his nieces Debbie (Natalie Wood) and Lucy (Pippa Scott) have been kidnapped. Ethan, Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr) and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) set out to find them, no matter what it takes. Our journey begins along with theirs…

The Searchers is emotional. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s compelling. We care about the characters. We recognize their flaws and we understand their actions and emotions. We’re with them throughout, and we’re rooting for them the whole time. And despite the emotional roller-coaster it puts you through, the ending is entirely satisfying, albeit bittersweet. And it will make you cry, believe me.

I like a Western with a heart and a conscience. Stagecoach and The Searchers have them in spades. Both of them could fit into the category of ‘Western for people who don’t like Westerns’ and that’s ok. It’s not a cliche, it’s true. And when you’re talking about John Ford and John Wayne, you know you’re in good hands.

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Giving films a second chance…

Lately, I’ve been re-watching movies I didn’t particularly like when I first saw them, because I like to give movies a second chance. I don’t like it when I don’t like a movie. I know it’s weird, but I just feel bad about it. And because Noirvember is coming, this month I will be re-watching noirs I didn’t particularly like for whatever reason, as well as noirs I DID like and want to watch again. I watched Detour (1945) two nights ago, because it had been about six years since I last saw it and I didn’t particularly love it then, but having watched it again, it’s grown on me. It’s got some of the best lines in noir history (in particular, the last line) and Vera (Ann Savage) is a fantastic villain and, to use an expression I despise, ahead of her time.  She’s just great. It’s quite na impressive film and I can’t believe I didn’t think much of it when I first saw it. What was I thinking? See, this is what I’m talking about. These things get to me on a personal level.

Anyway, can’t wait for Noirvember!

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

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Joseph L. Mankiewicz was more than a film director. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was one of the greatest storytellers of all time. And if All About Eve (1950) guarantees him a place amongst Hollywood’s greatest, then A Letter to Three Wives (1949) is the cherry on top of it.

Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) are on their way to a children’s picnic when they receive a letter saying that their friend Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm) has run off with one of their husbands. But which one?

Masterfully told in flashback, A Letter to Three Wives has everything you’d expect in a Joseph L. Mankiewicz picture: a ridiculously fantastic screenplay, strong female leads that don’t feel like caricatures, a great ensemble cast (which includes Kirk Douglas and Thelma Ritter), true-to-life depictions of marriage and friendship and a touch of class that has hardly ever been matched. Oh, and have I mentioned how witty it is?

Not only is this a great movie in itself, but also one of the all-time great suburban movies. I’ve always been fascinated by suburbia, because, as a writer, there is so much you can do with it, so many stories and characters, and A Letter to Three Wives is an excellent example of how to get it absolutely right.

Winner of Best Screenplay and Best Director Oscars (both Mankiewicz), A Letter to Three Wives is pure class.

 

Noirvember is coming!

You know how most people look forward to Halloween or Christmas or something like that when September comes? Well for me, the most exciting part of this time of year is always Noirvember. And this year, I’ve got two big posts in mind that I simply cannot wait to share with you guys. EXCITIIING! Alright Carol, collect yourself, it’s only September.

DOUBLE BILL #6: Gilda (1946) and Notorious (1946)

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I know what you’re thinking. These two films don’t have a lot in common, apart from the year they were released and arguably the genre they belong to. But something else they have in common is the love-hate relationship element, and that’s the main thing that always comes to mind when I think about them.

Love-hate relationships are hot. They’re intense, emotional, sexy, dramatic, sometimes funny and more often than not, fantastic plot devices. Notorious and Gilda are probably my favorite examples of this.

In Gilda (dir. Charles Vidor), Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is hired by casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready) to be his right-hand man. Little does he know that Macready is married to Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a woman he once loved…

The entire film is a power struggle between Gilda and Johnny, fuelled by their intense love and subsequent hate for each other. Gilda tries to make Johnny jealous whenever she can, and Johnny tries to pretend none of it bothers him. That’s pointless, of course, since it’s pretty obvious he’s still in love with her. He tries to lie to himself and to her, but she can see right through him. His emotional turmoil and her constant teasing are the perfect combination and their scenes together are electric. Particularly the ‘I hate you too, Johnny’ scene, which is, in my opinion, possibly the hottest scene ever. It’s just so full of love, hate, lies and desire and it culminates beautifully with the two of them finally giving in. But it doesn’t stop there. Gilda and Johnny’s relationship suffers yet another set-back after that. Of course it does. They wouldn’t let you off the hook that easy!

Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, on the other hand, is a lot darker. Party-girl Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is asked by T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on her dead father’s former friends, who he suspects are Nazis operating in South America. Eventually, she realizes she’ll have to marry Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), the leader of the group, in order to get information. Problem is, Alicia and Dev fall in love…

Throughout the movie, both of them struggle with their feelings for each other as well as their own demons. Dev can’t deal with the fact that he’s in love with a woman who he thinks would never be able to commit, and Alicia tries to prove him wrong. She tries to seduce him once she realizes that he’s in love with her, but he keeps trying to resist, even though he knows it’s useless. Before they know it, they’re sharing a kiss on the balcony in what is probably one of the most beautiful and romantic scenes ever filmed. You know what I’m talking about. That scene. The one everybody loves. It is so sweet, so carefully restrained, so intimate, it’s almost intrusive. I almost feel bad for watching it. It is their moment… After that, things take a turn for the worse and their relationship is yet again put to the test.

Gilda is hot. Notorious is sweet. Gilda and Johnny are fire. Alicia and Devlin are melting ice. Obviously, there is a lot more to these movies than just that, but for me personally, this is my absolute favorite thing about them. Ooh, the sparks!

My favorite scene in Duck Soup (1933)

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We all love Duck Soup (1933). It’s as crazy as a box of cats and every scene is comedy gold. But there’s one scene that stands out for me. No, not the mirror scene (I know, I know…). My favorite scene from Duck Soup is actually the three hats scene. The first time I saw the film, back in the glorious summer of 2007, I laughed uncontrollably and had to rewind the scene about four or five times. It is pure genius from start to finish. Chico’s ‘I’m a spy and he’s a spy’ speech, Harpo’s goofiness, and, of course, Edgar Kennedy’s hilarious reactions. I don’t have a favorite Marx Brother, but I do have a soft spot for the Chico/Harpo combo (‘Charpo’, in modern terms), and the three hats scene, to me, is one of their best moments. It’s just great. ‘Peanuts!’

The Dark Mirror (1946)

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The Dark Mirror’s eerie opening scene thrusts us into a world of deceit, twists, revenge and mind-games, fuelled by sibling rivalry and psychological issues, from which you couldn’t escape if you tried.

When Dr Frank Peralta is found dead in his apartment, his girlfriend Terry Collins (Olivia de Havilland) becomes the main suspect. But there’s just one problem: she has a twin sister. When questioned by Lt Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell), Terry and Ruth refuse to confess which one of them did it, which leads to Dr Scott Elliot (Lew Ayres) being brought into the case, to study the twins and solve the mystery.

Directed by Robert ‘King of Atmosphere’ Siodmak, The Dark Mirror plays tricks with your mind, the way it’s meant to. Despite the fact – or maybe because of it – that it contains one of the oldest gimmicks in fiction, it just works. It’s great, we buy into it, and we’re enthralled by it. Mostly because Olivia de Havilland is beyond fantastic. We all love Olivia de Havilland. Like William Powell, Claude Rains or Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland is one of those universally beloved people in classic film world. And why not? She’s incredible. In The Dark Mirror, she plays Terry and Ruth with amazing precision and detail, carefully and wisely, always making us question everything, including our own sanity, and the film’s climactic ending is one of her all-time best moments.

The Dark Mirror is a great psychological thriller. It pulls you in straight away and doesn’t let go until the very end. What more could you ask for?

Classic Movies I would like to live in

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As you know, I’m weirdly wonderful. Or wonderfully weird, depending on how you look at it. And because of that, my long-term relationship with Classic Hollywood has had its quirks along the way. And one of them consists of imagining myself living in the actual films, like, sometimes you’re watching a film and you kind of think ‘Oh, that looks like fun!’, and you start thinking that it must been really great to be in it.

So here are some of the films that have genuinely made me think ‘I want to live in that!’:

My Man Godfrey (1936) – they’re as crazy as a box of cats and I want some of that! Screwballs have that effect on me, somehow. They’re all insane, and that’s what’s so appealing about them. I have yet to watch one that doesn’t make me want to be in it.

Meet me in St Louis (1944) – The Trolley Song… oh, The Trolley Song… that, to me, is the epitome of happiness.

Some Like it Hot (1959) – everything about it is beyond wonderful. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in Some Like It Hot? Imagine doing all those shenanigans with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis!

Stage Door (1937) – Oh the theatre! I did a bit of acting a few years ago and it was so much fun. I just loved the sense of community and togetherness that we all shared. Stage Door always reminds me of that.

Easy Living (1937) – THAT HOUSE! Have you seen that house? But have you seen that house?! I’ve been obsessed with it since the first time I saw the film.

To Catch a Thief (1955) – The gorgeouness all around! It all looks so idyllic.

Grand Hotel (1932) – I would love to spend one week at the Grand Hotel and meet all those characters and hear their stories and laugh and cry with them. Seems like a nice place to lose yourself in.

The Women (1939) – I mean, come on, how can you not love it? Imagine hearing those one-liners on a regular basis. And the gossip! I know it’s petty, but it’s a lot of fun!

 

There you have it, folks! Happy Sunday ❤

My Top 15 Favorite Screwball Comedies

I love screwball comedies. They are so crazy and fun and over-the-top! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and I finally decided to do it, simply because I’ve been waiting too long, so I just thought ‘why not now?’

CRITERIA

This is my personal list of favorite screwball comedies. I am not claiming these are the best, in this particular order, these are just MY favorites.

This list is open for an update, because these things always change.

Some comedies don’t necessarily fit into the screwball comedy genre. There are tons of sub-genres, screwball, romantic, sophisticated, dark, supernatural, etc… There are many comedy films that I absolutely love and do not consider to be screwballs, like for instance The Philadelphia Story (1940), which is mostly a romantic/sophisticated comedy, or The Thin Man (1934), which is a regular comedy with elements of mystery/drama. These 15 films are the ones that I think are closest to the accepted definitely screwball comedy genre.

Here we go!

 

15. Nothing Sacred (1937)

      Dir. William A. Wellman

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Carole Lombard and Fredric March are fantastic together. What a great duo!

 

14. His Girl Friday (1940)

     Dir. Howard Hawks

 

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Fast, frantic and full of lines!

 

13. Midnight (1939)

     Dir. Mitchell Leisen

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Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the screenplay for this, so obviously it’s brilliant.

 

12. The Pam Beach Story (1942)

      Dir. Preston Sturges

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I love Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea’s relationship in this. It’s so sweet!

 

11. The More the Merrier (1943)

     Dir. George Stevens

 

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I think I developed a slight crush on Joel McCrea after watching this. Also Jean Arthur is perfect in everything.

 

10. Trouble in Paradise (1932)

    Dir. Ernst Lubitsch

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Trouble in Paradise is, in many ways, the originator of all of these. I think it’s probably fair to say it’s the original screwball comedy, but that’s likely up for debate.

 

9. Merrily We Live (1938)

   Dir. Norman Z. McLeod

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My Man Godfrey’s younger cousin. Pretty much the same plot, but it is sooo lovely!

 

8. It Happened one Night (1934)

  Dir. Frank Capra

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The only Best Picture on the list, and how deserving! It’s extraordinary.

 

7. Ball of Fire (1941)

   Dir. Howard Hawks

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Barbara Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss is one of my all-time favorite movie characters. Wilder and Brackett also wrote this.

 

6. Easy Living (1937)

    Dir. Mitchell Leisen

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The taxi cab scene, Louis, the enourmous bedroom, Jean Arthur and Ray Milland’s relationship… Everything about Easy Living is fantastic.

 

5. Twentieth Century (1934)

  Dir. Howard Hawks

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It was so close! This and Easy Living were almost tied, but in the end, I had to put this one higher because I saw it on the big screen, so it has sentimental value for me.

 

4. The Awful Truth (1937)

   Dir. Leo McCarey

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Irene Dunne’s performance is the greatest screwball comedy performance by an actress in my opinion. It is incredibly complex once you analyze it.

 

3. My Man Godfrey (1936)

   Dir. Gregory LaCava

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The craziest family ever? I think so. Mind you, in a weird way, I would kind of like to live in that house for like a day or two. Sounds fun!

 

2. The Lady Eve (1941)

  Dir. Preston Sturges

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Big debate between this and Godfrey as well, but in the end, I had to go with Eve. It’s just slightly more convoluted, which is perfect for screwball.

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1. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

  Dir. Howard Hawks

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Well, of course. You all knew it. It is the greatest of them all, in my opinion, and one of my absolute favorite films in any genre, ever.

 

Happy Screwball! (don’t really know what that means, but let’s go with it)

DOUBLE BILL #5: Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945)

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For a brief period of time, four of Hollywood’s biggest stars got together and formed one of the most constantly overlooked partnerships in movie history. Between 1944 and 1945, Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Dureya made two films together, Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945). To me, these two films always go hand-in-hand. I can never help but compare them to one another and I can’t even think of one without thinking of the other.

Woman in the Window is an interesting one. The ‘mid-life crisis’ theme that can often be found in film noir – Pitfall (1948) comes to mind – is certainly one of the best starting points in films of the genre. A man is bored with his life, his marriage and himself and he seeks some excitement elsewhere. After that, his life takes a turn for the worse. Perfect. In Woman in the Window, that man is Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) a professor who, after meeting up with his friends in his club, goes outside to look at a painting of a woman in a shop window. He meets Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), the woman in the painting, and the two of them go for a drink. Later, back in her place, Alice’s lover Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) breaks in and starts fighting with Richard, who ends up killing him. With a murder to cover up and a body to dispose of, Richard and Alice soon make a plan and decide to pretend nothing ever happened. However, Mazard’s bodyguard Heidt (Dan Dureya) knows what happened and starts blackmailing Alice. Things get worse…

I love the fact that Woman in the Window is pretty much a stereotypical film noir, with all the elements there and in the right place, yet somehow it feels different. It’s kind of quiet and almost soothing. Apart from two or three scenes, everything is quite calm, and I really like that. I suppose its tongue-in-cheek ending might have something to do with it, who knows, I just find that interesting.

Scarlet Street, on the other hand… boy, is it dark! Edward G. Robinson plays Chris Cross (and that’s not even the best name in the film), a cashier who, after attending a dinner thrown in his honor, walks home through Greenwich Village and spots Kitty March (Joan Bennett) being attacked by a man. He runs to her rescue and the two of them go to a restaurant nearby. They start talking about art and Kitty wrongly assumes he’s a famous painter. After that, she and her boyfriend Johnny Prince (best name in the film), played by Dan Duryea, start working up a scheme to extort money from Chris. After that, things start going really wrong…

Scarlet Street is just an unrelenting spiral descent into madness. And it is unafraid. It gives you a pitiful leading man, a lazy layabout femme fatale and Dan Dureya, the caddest cad that ever cadded, and on top of that, it gives you nothing to comfort you. Has there ever been a sadder ending to a film noir? I’m talking genuinely sad, not ‘dark but had it coming’ sad. It’s quite impressive.

I love the fact that they are so similar and yet so different. They both have quite similar themes, they start more or less the same way, but they go down such drastically different paths. It almost feels like Woman in the Window is the antidote to Scarlet Street. Although I think Scarlet Street might be the better movie of the two – it is actually the remake of a Renoir film called La Chiene (1931), so maybe that’s another Double Bill?

Lang, Bennett, Robinson and Dureya were simply a great foursome. I kind of feel cheated that they didn’t make more movies together, but these two make up for that.